After months of student protests, Harvard Law School could soon stop using its official symbol, a shield based on the crest of an 18th-century slaveholder whose donation paid for the first professorship of law at the university.
In a letter to the university’s president and fellows released on Friday, the dean of the law school, Martha L. Minow, argued that the time had come to dissociate the school from the legacy of Isaac Royall, who left Harvard part of a fortune acquired through the labor of slaves at his father’s sugar plantation in Antigua.
Every year, the dean wrote, she welcomes new students with a discussion of the benefactor’s portrait in which she notes “that while Harvard University at that time acted legally in accepting the gift, it is crucial that we never confine ourselves to solely what is currently lawful, for the great evil of slavery happened within the confines of the law.”
— Royall House (@RoyallHouse) February 28, 2016
The dean also made public a report by a committee of Harvard Law School faculty, students, alumni and staff which recommended, by a vote of 10-2, that the shield based on the Royall family crest — a celebration of agricultural wealth with three sheaves of wheat — no longer be used. “The Law School would not today honor Isaac Royall and his bequest by taking his crest as its official symbol,” the committee observed.